Coach who almost quit Super Rugby is banking on youth for opening fixture - with one major exception
He chose to reinvent himself as a coach instead.
The Rebels were second on the ladder halfway through last season after winning six of their opening eight games but faded badly to finish 11th and miss a maiden finals berth.
After his second season at the helm it cut so deep Wessels questioned whether he wanted to keep coaching.
But after sitting on the beach for 10 days downing a few beers, Wessels decided to change the way he did his “dream job”.
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“I’ve done a bit of a 180 in my coaching,” Wessels said on Thursday.
“I wasn’t enjoying myself at the end of last season. I had a couple of moments where I wondered whether this is what I wanted to be doing.
“Australian rugby is quite a tough place to be because absolutely everything you do is criticised all the time and we don’t do ourselves any favours with all the macro things that happen in the game.”
South African-born Wessels said getting away from the game in the off-season provided clarity.
“As an inexperienced coach, I realised I’d been suckered into all sorts of things I wasn’t enjoying doing, I was doing a lot of commercial things,” Wessels said.
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Interesting to see so many Kiwi 10's in the mix for this, and three-time Super Rugby champion Richie Mo'unga. If you have a certain level of attacking upside, defensive ability is less important in Super Rugby as a 10. ? #superrugby #crusaders #chiefsrugby #highlanders #sharksrugby #nzrugby #sarugby #allblacks #springboks
“I’d lost a little bit of connection with the players and that was the thing that really gives me joy in my coaching, helping make individual players better.
“This year I’ve recalibrated all of that and decided to do the things I enjoy and that brought me into coaching in the first place, which is being much more engaged with the team.
“This is my dream job. So when you have some time off and can step away from it a little bit you think ‘Hang on a second, I totally lost focus in what I actually enjoy in the game’.”
The Rebels finished last on the table the season before Wessels arrived in 2018 and the coach said it was easy to forget the strides they’ve made.
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He believes lack of depth has cost them finals appearances and made recruiting experience a priority in the-season.
“I feel like the team is further down the road than we were this time last year, it’s amazing to have a bit of continuity and what a difference that makes,” Wessels said.
“The average caps in the match-day 23 is about 45 which is a huge step forward in experience.
“We’ve gone from a team in 2017 that scored 21 tries to last year scoring 56.
“This year we’ve also spent a lot more time on our defence than we have in previous years.”
Wessels has plenty of experience but also named eight debutants in match squad to face the Sunwolves in their season opener in Tokyo on Saturday.
A new era will begin for the Rebels following the departure of halves pairing Will Genia and Quade Cooper.
Fijian international Frank Lomani will replace Genia and will be joined in the backline by Waratahs recruit and former Australian under-20 captain Andrew Kellaway. Experienced operator Matt To’omua will take the reins at first five.
Rebels: Fereti Sa’aga, Anaru Rangi, Jermaine Ainsley, Ross Haylett-Petty, Matt Philip, Angus Cottrell, Rob Leota, Isi Naisarani, Frank Lomani, Matt To’omua, Andrew Kellaway, Bily Meakes, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Dane Haylett-Petty. Reserves: Steve Misa, Cameron Orr, Ruan Smith, Luke Jones, Michael Wells, Richard Hardwick, Theo Strang, Andrew Deegan.
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